High Park Noir, produced by Simply Twisted Productions, embraced the night by opening late at 10:30pm at the Toronto Fringe Festival. I found it a fascinating take on the noir genre, focusing on a group of quirky but loveable animals caught up in corruption, murder, and condo development.
I had never been to a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival before and High Park Noir seemed like a great place to start, since it promised me many things that I love. I found that the acting was fun and campy but not too overwhelming, that the overarching plot worked well, and that the live music complimented the production perfectly. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and one of the most fun I’ve had at any theatre production.
I was initially interested in High Park Noir since I am a film studies major and a fan of the film noir. The play seemed like textbook noir. Jim Armstrong plays a racoon detective (or “dick”) named Detective Dick, who is tracking down a dog (Cory Bertrand) in connection to the murder of an unnamed racoon cub.
High Park Noir doesn’t get too lost in the drama of noir, though. You don’t even need to be familiar with noir to enjoy it. It left a lot of room to be fun and campy, which I enjoyed thoroughly. In between scenes that uncovered the corruption of the “Pawlice Department”, there were bits of silly animal humour. For example, the cat characters acted like cats: compulsively pushing objects off of tables, licking their paws, and sniffing every object in sight.
Additionally, High Park Noir took some time to offer commentary on the city of Toronto which I thought was important. “Never before has condo construction been stopped in this city,” Detective Dick said at the climax of the play. I thought that was an especially funny line and, upon hearing it, scribbled it into my notebook immediately.
As per the usual noir tropes, Detective Dick has a dark past: he accidentally murdered an innocent racoon. As a result, he turned to drinking and monologuing his sorrows to the audience, which I found a humorous and effective way for me to feel sympathy for his character.
It was hard for me to empathize or even like Detective Dick at first. It felt like he was in a different world altogether than the other fun, quirky cast of characters. However, the writing of the play does a fantastic job with Detective Dick’s story and made me feel sympathetic for him with a few short lines of backstory. None of it felt convoluted or that there was too much exposition.
One of the biggest delights of High Park Noir was Freya Ravensbergen’s Officer Pussy, whose energetic performance I thought was especially endearing. When she was on stage, I found it difficult to focus on anyone else. Another standout was Laura Kyswaty’s Angel, who performed a dance number which I enjoyed immensely.
Then there was the music. Abigail Neale and Vennie Tu, the performers for the night, were a wonderful addition to my enjoyment of the production. Their cues set up the mood for each scene extremely well.
With good acting, costuming, writing, music, and production value, I have very few negative things to say about High Park Noir. Some of the delivery and movement could have been more polished, but this fault wasn’t enough to make me like enjoy it less.
High Park Noir is pleasant, fun, and brilliant. I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates film noir, quirkiness, and/or campy humour.
- High Park Noir plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Sexual Content.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the very front row.
- Wednesday July 5th, 10:30 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 07:30 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 03:30 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 02:45 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 09:45 pm
- Friday July 14th, 05:45 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 01:45 pm
Photo of Jim Armstrong and Cory Bertrand by Stephen Kew